The Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As might not be the grandest mosque or most famous mosque, and you may not see in included in all of our different Cairo tour packages, but it was the first mosque ever built in Africa, and certainly worth a visit.
People tend to visit Egypt because they appreciate the fact that it’s a land of antiquity. With ancient pyramids; temples; tombs and so much more, there is plenty to keep even the most enthusiastic of tourists busy. Most visitors also begin the journey in Cairo simply because there are so many amazing attractions in Cairo.
Few buildings or historic sites in Egypt are less than a few hundred years in age, and many are “firsts” or “lasts” of their kind. The Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As is certainly one of these Egyptian rarities. In fact, It was the very first mosque built in Egypt, and throughout all of Africa for that matter.
A Brief History Of Amr Ibn al-As Mosque
Construction of the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As was started in 642 AD and is largely believed to be the location of the site where General Amr ibn al-As had is tent when he conquered Egypt in that same year. Because virtually nothing from the original structure remains today, it is difficult to verify the actual dates of the construction. However, the tomb in which the general’s son was laid to rest is located in one corner of the mosque, and this discovery has in turn allowed researchers to validate the original age of the mosque.
Interestingly enough, the mosque is still a very active mosque despite being such an ancient site. As a result, the mosque itself is only open to visitors when there are no prayer services taking place.
The precise history of the building may be difficult to pinpoint with accuracy, but it is known that Caliph Umar sent Amr ibn al-As marched into Egypt in order to conquer it in late 641 AD. His attempt proved to be very successful, and upon conquering the region, he issued orders begin construction of the city of Fustat on the site. The original site was duly called Misr al-Fustat which means City of Tents, and several years later it eventually served as the foundation for the mosque.
A Mosque Reborn
In 689 AD the original Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As was completely demolished by Egypt’s new rulers. They then ordered a far bigger and better mosque to be built in its place. The same thing happened again in 711 AD, and the building expanded again. The result was a mosque that was almost twice its original size. Construction of the new bigger mosque was then finally completed in 827.
With each each renovation new features were added, such as mosaics, arches, and fountains. In 1797 the last of the major changes were made when the building began to collapse from age and decay. At that time, new arches were added for support and two additional minarets were completed.
The World’s First University
The Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As became the first real university, not only in Egypt, but also in the entire world. It essentially became the top center for learning and teaching. Today the mosque is no longer a learning center, but it certainly filled that role for many years. There was also a period during which it served as a as the country’s primary “ziada”, which was in essence a court of laws.
Visiting The Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As
As with all mosques, visitors are advised and expected to respect local customs and religious practices. For example, women need to cover their heads; arms and legs. Head scarves are available at the mosque entrance, and this is also where all visitors will need to leave their shoes prior to entering the mosque.
The mosque is an active place of worship, and this takes priority over tourism. As such, the mosque is not open to visitors during prayer times and on holy days. Visitors should also bear in mind that the Mosque is a popular attraction, so advanced planning is recommended.
Most hotels and resorts can arrange guided tours, many of which will also include a trip to the fascinating Coptic. This is a fantastic experience for anyone who is curious about alternative architecture of the same period.
Instead of having to arrange all your own individual tours when you’re in Egypt, why not let us do the work for you so you you focus on what really matters most to you. Check out some of our fabulous Cairo tour packages or our more comprehensive Egypt tour packages that we are currently offering, some of which include a visit to the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As.